Ask an Economist

E.g., Saturday, October 24, 2020
E.g., Saturday, October 24, 2020
Question:
In light of the current pandemic, and constant feuding about what it means for our economy, I wanted to ask what the best long term solution is for reopening the United States economy. Is it in the best interest of our economy to reopen soon, losing lives, or is minimizing the death in the long term a better economic strategy?
Answer:

In short, we do not know, especially so because nothing like this has hit the US in modern times. The Great Depression was a massive disrupter and devastator but caused ultimately by economic forces from within. This time around, the fundamentals...

Question:
I keep seeing this number used instead of actual dollar numbers. Isn't most government spending a part of GDP? If $1 billion spent on a battleship raises the GDP by $1 billion, doesn't that fatally skew the percentage formula?
Answer:

Let me start by reminding you that GDP is a measure of the total amount of goods and services produced in an economy, say the USA, in a year. So it sums the total value in dollars of everything that has been produced in the country in a given...

Question:
Because of QE, the money supply has increased substantially since 2008. Why aren't we seeing more inflation?
Answer:

As noted, the Federal Reserve has significantly expanded its balance sheet from about $800 billion prior to the Financial Crisis, to roughly $4.5 trillion as of November, 2014. The Fed expanded its balance sheet by buying long-term assets and...

Question:
My friend is buying a new cable internet modem so he can quit leasing one from the cable provider. We both currently have DOCSIS 3.0 modems which support speeds up to 400 Mbps. We both currently subscribe to internet service of less than 200 Mbps, so we're not even using the full capability of the modems now.

Currently, DOCSIS 3.1 modems are widely-used as they support speeds up to 2 Gbps (5 times the bandwidth of the 3.0 standard). Of course they cost more. In the real-world situation my friend faces, should he pay $117 for the 3.0 modem or $149 for the 3.1 modem?

My argument for 3.1 is this: Modems last a long time. About 7 years ago, I had subscribed to faster internet service and was only receiving about 1/3 the bandwidth I was paying for. I learned that I needed a modem that supported the faster speed. After research, I learned I needed a 3.0 modem (the current standard at the time). I bought the new modem and instantly experienced the significantly faster internet I was paying for. I've had my current modem for seven years (and I'll upgrade to 3.1 if I ever subscribe to gigabit service). Even at a life expectancy of 7 years the difference is 38 cents per month.

In many regions, gigabit internet is becoming standard. In the next several years, I anticipate that gigabit will be the default service offered by providers. If you have a 3.0 modem, you effectively will only be able to harness up to 40% of the capacity you're subscribed to.

His argument for 3.0 modem is this: He's had 75 Mbps internet service for years now and he's fine. He lives alone (38 year old male). He claims he is certain he won't partner with anyone. He says he will never need more than 400 Mbps anyways. If he ends up with gigabit service and can only use 40% of it, it won't matter.

Answer:

Individual consumers have different preferences and information, which guide those individuals to choose what is best for themselves.  Your friend seems quite determined that he will not use faster internet even if gigabit service were to be...

Question:
I recently read a story about China stockpiling commodities.
https://www.agriculture.com/news/business/doud-china-is-stockpiling-world-s-grain-supplies

Mr Doud, the chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. trade representative, has put out statistics saying that China has been stockpiling large amounts of the world’s residual supplies of grains and other commodities and says that stockpiling these commodities is “depressing prices for every other farmer across the globe,”. But why would stockpiling lead to depressing prices? It would seem to me that taking residual commodities off the market (stockpiling) would have the opposite effect; that it would create greater competition for the remaining supplies, which would lead to higher prices.
Answer:

The impact of stockpiling commodities on prices depends on the timeframe. While the stockpiling is occurring, your reasoning is accurate. The stockpiling is removing supplies from the market, creating more intense competition for the remaining...

Question:
Can a market failure occur when there is a high amount of risk within the market leading producers and consumers to avoid the market?
Answer:

To answer this question, it is critical to agree on the definition of "market failure." In what follows, by "market failure" we will mean a situation where a free market fails to provide an efficient allocation of goods and services (i.e., risk...

Question:
Was it Truman's intention to begin paying down the debt after WW2? If so, what happened to prevent it? And was there any way that the public would have known that the debt was not to be whittled down to the same extent that had always been attempted previously? Was it the result of an announced policy, or simply something that was never gotten around to?
Answer:

To begin with, the premise of this question is somewhat mistaken.  As was true in earlier wars, WW II did cause a large expansion of federal government debt both absolutely and relative to GDP.  Indeed, the debt/GDP ratio reached about...

Question:
What are the major pieces of literature on Agricultural economics as well as the household names when it comes to Agricultural economic research?

I am mathematics major student with an MA in Economics, I am developing an insatiable interest in Agricultural economics and would like to read more on research in this area. I would like to be guided on the body of literature making names in this field.

I will particularly be interested in works that apply econometric techniques using time series econometrics and forecasting, panel data.
Answer:

Handbook of Agricultural Economics

Editors: Bruce L. Gardner and Gordon C. Rausser

Volume 1, Part A, Pages 3-741 (2001)

Agricultural Production

Volume 1, Part B, Pages 745-1209 (2001)

Marketing, Distribution and...

Question:
Why has Saudi Arabia released so much oil for sale that prices for that have dropped so fast? Does that country have a lot of debt? Does it relate indirectly to the economic slow down in China?
Answer:

Currently, Saudi Arabia’s foreign exchange reserve is about $600 billion. Saudi’s oil export is about 8 million barrels per day, or about 2800 million barrels per year. At $100 per barrel, their revenue from oil exports would be about $280...

Question:
Hi! I'm trying to do more reading on economics this summer as I consider applying to master's of economics programs after working in IT for 13 years. I came across a paper (linked at the bottom) on inequality. I only have an undergraduate level understanding of economics and statistics (think intermediate micro/macro and an introductory stats class I took around 2003) so I'm limited in my understanding.

I'm reading through this paper and while I can think of reasons why some of the conclusions might be true I don't get how empirically they are reaching their conclusions.

1) According to page 16 item #23 "The empirical results show that inequality has a negative impact on economic growth. The baseline results are reported in columns 1 to 4 of Table 1" and then goes on to explain its reasoning why inequality negative impacts growth and says "Based on the estimated coefficients in column 1, for example, lowering inequality by 1 Gini point would translate in an increase in cumulative growth of 0.8 percentage points in the following 5 years".
2) In item #29 (page 19) they go on to say "Taken together, these results suggest that inequality in disposable incomes is bad for growth, and that redistribution is, at worst, neutral to growth". Again while I can think of some reasons why this may be the case (and some reasons why it may not like if some of the wealth leaves the country so as not to get redistributed depending upon implementation) I'm not sure how they are coming to that conclusion empirically.
3) Then several times they estimate what the impact on growth would be for every % change in the Gini index but I'm not sure how they built that numerical assumption.

I came across the paper because I was trying to do some simple research into whether income inequality can lower the velocity of money (though so far I've just pulled some data from FRED on MZM and the Gini index and found like a -.46 correlation.

I'm hoping I could learn from someone to better understand how the tables this paper provides actually translates into the conclusions they claim; I don't know how to properly interpret the tables.

https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/social-issues-migration-health/trends-in-income-inequality-and-its-impact-on-economic-growth_5jxrjncwxv6j-en;jsessionid=g-XlVT6DTb4_r_CW_3M5veza.ip-10-240-5-57

Thanks!

Christopher

Answer:

1) According to page 16 item #23 "The empirical results show that inequality has a negative impact on economic growth. The baseline results are reported in columns 1 to 4 of Table 1" and then goes on to explain its reasoning why inequality...

Question:
I know that when there is too much of something the value of that item goes down. If the money supply of US Dollars goes up drastically that will that lead to or cause inflation of the US dollar or a decrease in its value. According to an article I am referencing *," When inflation starts to bubble up, Treasury inflation-protected securities can turn down the heat on your portfolio. Issued with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, TIPS are one of the few investments guaranteed to earn, under normal circumstances, a "real," or after-inflation, return. Their principal value adjusts in sync with the consumer price index and, because the coupon payments on TIPS cue off this adjusted principal figure, the bonds pay an inflation-indexed income, too."
So my question is: if the US dollar loses 10 % of its value to inflation, how much will the bonds return? In dollar amounts- a $5000 investment in Treasury inflation-protected securities should yield how much?
* http://m.kiplinger.com/article/investing/T041-C000-S002-why-you-need-tips.html
Answer:

Suppose that $5000 is the face value or redemption value (not the market price at which an investor may have bought it) of a 5-year TIPs. Suppose that it promises to pay an annual coupon payment of 1% or the amount of $50 at the time of purchase...

Question:
I watched President Obama’s speech this last week, and I didn’t understand something. He said he’s cut the deficit by 2/3. Yet, we need the debt ceiling raised in order to avoid a government shutdown. Why? If I were to pay down 2/3’s of my debt, I would have a larger amount of credit available to me. What am I missing?
Answer:

You are missing a key difference between the federal budget deficit and the public debt level. The deficit shows by how much the federal government expenditures exceeded its revenues in a given fiscal year; the deficit is measured per year. In...

Question:
Can you tell me, please, what the projections are for the U.S. and State of Iowa work forces? What is the likely composition of those work forces, and where/how would we be smart to recruit in order to build the strongest pool of workers over the coming years?
Answer:

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has an annual projection of employment and labor force growthThe most recent is Employment Projections: 2018-2028, available...

Question:
One of the macro economic indicator that is monitored by organizations is "the contribution of construction to the GDP". This is measured in terms of percentage contribution of construction.

My question is:
What does this comprise? Does it include large infrastructure projects/oil refineries/nuclear plats etc or not?
Answer:

As you probably have seen already, you can find the measure of value added to GDP per sector of the US economy at the Bureau of Economic Analysis website, specifically at this web address: https...

Question:
With all the killing of poultry by bird flu and euthanizing that will this do to the retail poultry prices?
Answer:

Avian influenza has continued to spread, particularly in flocks of egg-laying hens. When a farm encounters a case of avian influenza, some birds die and others are euthanized. In the immediate short-run, this translates into a direct reduction in...

Question:
Can an economist call the economy good when there is low unemployment, good profits, but great income disparity? Is it within the realm of the social science of economics to consider social justice?
Answer:

Economists measure the economic health of a country by its G.D.P per capita. They see low unemployment as good because it means labor resources are not sitting idle. They also consider whether income disparities are good or bad. In fact, these...

Question:
Hi!

I wanted to value a high-tech start-up of which I have the cash flows of the coming 6 years. I am not a VC just a post-grad student, so I decided to use the discounted cash flow method. To do so, I calculated the discount rate. For a high-tech start- up the discount rate = Rate of equity (which can be determined by the capital asset pricing model). So I calculated my discount rate, used it in the DCF model, and found an approximation of the value of the high-tech firm.

But I didn't take into consideration that the company sells their products globally. This fact has an impact on its beta factor, and consequently on the discount rate, and finally on the value of the firm!

One option is to use the International CAPM model, but my company is going to sell globally, so how do I know the impact of that to the discount rate? Any help would be very appreciated.

Thanks
Answer:

If your company is based in the U.S., the valuation should be based on the standard CAPM. However, barring exceptional circumstances, one would expect the beta of such a firm to be closer to zero than the beta of an otherwise identical firm...

Question:
Using the worst case scenario (Illinois), what are the economic implications of underfunded pension plans?
Answer:

The problem of underfunded pension plans is complex. Some possible economic effects are as follows.

1. Plan beneficiaries will suffer economically in retirement unless they are bailed out by taxpayers. Whether and how much to bail them out...

Question:
At what point does it become profitable for the producer of an agricultural good to begin seeking alternative uses to its main product, similar to the way the corn, soy and cotton industries founded boards to research new uses for their product? If this principle has a name, what is it called for further reading on the subject?
Answer:

If the principle has a name, I suppose it would be DIVERSIFICATION. But, given the inclusion of the words “boards to research new uses for their product,” the questioner may also be asking about how do agricultural industries decide whether to...

Question:
In Canada, where I live, there has been much talk lately about the need to build more pipelines to export oil from Alberta. Western Canadian Select (WCS), the benchmark for bitumen from the oil sands, trades at a discounted price compared to higher quality products like West Texas Intermediate (WTI), for example. While the difference in quality accounts for most of the price differential between the two, the rest of the price discount can be explained by export bottlenecks, apparently. Since oil production in Canada exceeds the capacity of existing pipelines to export the oil to refineries in the US, oil producers turn instead to rail companies to export the oil.

1) Why does a transportation bottleneck cause Canadian oil to trade at a discounted price? Is it simply because rail companies have more leverage in this situation, as they have an effective monopsony as a buyer, a.k.a. near-monopoly over transportation? And if that's the case, is the oil sold to the rail company, who is able to negotiate a discounted price at which to purchase the oil from the producer?

I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that rail companies seek to secure long-term contracts with clients, so when oil producers want to use rail services just for the short-term, until new pipelines can be built, rail companies refuse to pay a high price for the commodity being transported (alternatively, rail companies demand a higher fee to transport the commodity). But again, I'm not clear about whether or not rail companies actually purchase the oil and then sell it on to refineries. And if a Canadian rail company does purchase the oil, then the revenue stays in Canada, doesn't it?

2) I have read that rail transport only adds marginal export capacity compared to what's needed, so perhaps the oil producer/rail transaction has a negligible effect on price? If that's true, then I'm really confused.

3) Is it simply just that a transportation bottleneck causes excess oil supply to build up, reducing its market price? But I thought that a bottleneck would equate to less supply, since it can't be exported as quickly, and therefore its market price should rise.
Answer:

Great question!  In general, we don’t need a monopsonistic setting to explain crude differentials between WCS and WTI.  In a competitive market, prices for the same product (oil, corn, etc.) can diverge in different markets for two...

Question:
What would happen if the minimum wage laws were repealed? Would businesses pay their employees a penny an hour?

If raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would be good for the economy, wouldn't raising it to $20 be better? If not, at what point are the good economic effects of a minimum wage outweighed by the bad?
Answer:

If minimum wage laws were repealed, the vast majority of U.S. workers would not have their wages impacted. Through supply and demand, competitive market forces drive up the wage rates of most workers to levels considerably above the current...

Question:
I am familiar with Karl Fox et al. "functional economic areas" framework of regional modelling. I am also aware of REMI products. These latter models are widely used by state and local governments. But I am not aware of the availability of computer models that would use functional economic areas per se. Can you inform me if there are such models that might be an alternative to REMI? Thank you.
Answer:

Any subnational economic modeling includes two challenging components: data and structure.  Detailed subnational data for the US is automatically suspect because input-output tables are not collected at any subnational level. ...

Question:
If a business owner employs workers in a third world country, is it better (for the workers) to pay them in strong American dollars vs paying them with the local currency? Considering the American dollar will likely be stronger than that of a third world country, the workers will have more economic power with greenbacks than their own national currency.
Answer:

If the third world country has low and stable inflation, then it should not matter much; after all, there is a market exchange rate between say $1 and Indian rupees (these days, $1 = Rs. 60) and whether you pay an Indian worker $1 or Rs 60 should...

Question:
Why did China’s banking system grow so much since 2000 if the PBOC was actively increasing the RRR and withdrawing liquidity through FX Reserve purchases?
Answer:

First of all, I want to make it clear that, when a central bank increases its FX reserves, it supplies local currencies and increases liquidity in the money market. But this is certainly not the reason that China’s banking system grew so much....

Question:
Do Trump’s new tariffs affect things that were made in China, but were NOT sold from China? As in a toy from Xplus. They are made in China, but are sold and exported by Japan.
Answer:

Trumps tariffs are collected by U.S. customs officials when Chinese goods are imported into the US. They are not collected on goods imported from Japan. However, the tariffs have created worldwide perturbations and there may be modest second...

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